by Stephanie Johnson
On Tuesday, November 18, two editors from The Torch had the opportunity to meet with Thomas Runyon, Boston College Construction Project Manager, to get a sneak peek at St. Mary’s Hall prior to the official re-opening of the building in early December. The major project features both interior and exterior renovation and introduces academic space to a building that previously served primarily residential purposes. The Woods College of Advancing Studies, the Communications department, and the Computer Science department will occupy the academic space.
The Boston College Board of Trustees approved the renovation project back in 2012, and work officially started after the Jesuit community moved out on January 9, 2013. St. Mary’s is the second-oldest building on Boston College’s campus and serves as the primary residence for the university’s Jesuit community.
St. Mary’s was built in 1918, underwent major renovation in 1932, and experienced additional minor renovations throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The 1932 project featured a sizeable addition that would allow the university to accommodate more Jesuits.
Runyon led the editors of The Torch through the door on the ground floor of the south wing of the building. This new door will serve as the building’s main door and provides access to the academic space.
The ground floor of St. Mary’s is home to office space and a reception area for the Woods College, a ten-car parking garage, utilities, and a large kitchen. The dining area, rector’s office, a smaller kitchen, recreation room, reception area, conference room, and the main chapel can be found on the first floor of the building. The features of this floor are similar to the features of the floor prior to renovation; however, the layout has changed slightly. For example, the large conference room that was previously located next to the chapel has been relocated to the front of the building. The Jesuit community can also access their enclosed courtyard from this floor. Runyon told The Torch that the courtyard is awaiting the arrival of a fountain that is currently being sculpted in Italy. The academic area of the second, third, and fourth floors is devoted to the Computer Science and Communications departments.
The residential area of the building experienced drastic changes. Prior to renovation, the residential area featured eighty rooms for Jesuit priests. The newly renovated living quarters are much smaller due to the incorporation of academic space, and there are now only thirty-three bedrooms. Jesuits will occupy thirty of the bedrooms, while the other three will be designated for guest use only. Approximately forty or forty-five Jesuits have been residing in 2000 Commonwealth Avenue for the duration of the renovation project. The residential area in St. Mary’s is too small to house all of the Jesuits that were relocated, so some community members will be placed in other houses around campus such as Roberts House and 30 Old Colony Road while others will move to the Jesuit retirement facility at Campion Center in Weston, MA.
The main chapel renovations mostly involved cleaning, polishing, and refurbishing. The chapel will also be air-conditioned, a feature that was lacking before. In addition to the main chapel on the second floor, the building also features two smaller chapels, which are incorporated into the residential area.
When asked if the team experienced any major setbacks, Runyon informed The Torch that they experienced a great deal of surprises due to the age of the building. Despite the numerous surprises they have managed to keep the costs within the original projected budget.
In addition to major layout renovations, restorations involved a great deal of refurbishing of existing wood, windows, and plaster. The renovation also introduced air-conditioning to the building. In order to incorporate air-conditioning, a large hole had to be cut into the roof of the building. The hole inhabits a space that previously contained many of the supportive steel beams for the building. Reinforcing support for the building proved to be a major challenge for the project team.
One of the biggest components of the renovation project concerns the cast stone found on the exterior of the building. Runyon told The Torch that the refurbishing of the St. Mary’s cast stone is the largest project ever of its type in the country. By comparison, the refurbishing of Gasson Hall’s cast stone involved approximately 6,800 pieces, while St. Mary’s Hall had 15,000 pieces that needed to be refurbished. Each piece was sent to Canada to be refurbished.
The building is currently undergoing inspection, and the plan is to start moving the Jesuit community back into the building in early December. The first Mass to be celebrated in the chapel following the re-opening will be on Monday, December 8—the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.